President Barack Obama said Saturday that the military air strikes he authorized in Iraq this week are intended to protect American interests and prevent the genocide of religious minorities. He also pledged that the U.S. will not be dragged "into fighting another Iraq war."
"As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq. American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there's no American military solution to the larger crisis there," Obama assured the nation in his weekly address Saturday.
"I directed our military to take action to protect our American diplomats and military advisors serving in the city of Erbil. In recent days, terrorist forces neared the city. Thursday night, I made it clear that if they attempted to advance further, our military would respond with targeted strikes. That's what we've done. And, if necessary, that's what we will continue to do. We have Americans serving across Iraq, including our embassy in Baghdad, and we'll do whatever is needed to protect our people," said Obama.
"Second, we've begun a humanitarian effort to help those Iraqi civilians trapped on that mountain. The terrorists that have taken over parts of Iraq have been especially brutal to religious minorities—rounding up families, executing men, enslaving women, and threatening the systematic destruction of an entire religious community, which would be genocide," he added.
The 2014 annual report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended as it had been doing since 2008, that the U.S. government designate Iraq a "country of particular concern".
"Large percentages of the country's most vulnerable religious minorities – which include Chaldo-Assyrian and other Christians, Sabean Mandeans, and Yezidis (Yazidis) – have fled the country, threatening these communities' continued existence in Iraq," noted the report.
"Those remaining face official discrimination, marginalization, and neglect particularly in areas of northern Iraq over which the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) dispute control," it added.
It further noted that although the Iraqi constitution guarantees equality and religious freedom to all Iraqis, Islam has been established as the religion of the state and "a fundamental source of legislation ad says no law may contradict 'the established principles of Islam' which are not defined."
Fighters from ISIS, which refers to itself as the Islamic State recently forced some 40,000 desperate people for the Yazidi minority group to flee to the mountains of northwestern Iraq with no food or water and under the threat of scorching heat, according to CNN.
"We heard sounds of mortars and in the morning they (Islamic militants) entered Sinjar," Zahra Jardo, a Yazidi woman who escaped the violence, told Reuters. "So we fled to the mountains, and those who stayed there are now suffering from thirst. They have no water. They also took girls and raped them. They said that Yazidis have to be converted to Islam."
Last month, the city of Mosul in Iraq was reportedly emptied of Christians after they were ordered to convert, flee, pay a tax or face death.
On Saturday the US military carried out three rounds of airstrikes against ISIS militants in Iraq in an effort to bolster Iraqi and Kurdish forces according to ABC.
"The thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of Iraqi men, women and children who fled to that mountain were starving and dying of thirst. The food and water we airdropped will help them survive. I've also approved targeted American airstrikes to help Iraqi forces break the siege and rescue these families. Earlier this week, one anguished Iraqi in this area cried to the world, 'There is no one coming to help.' Today, America is helping," said Obama.
"The United States cannot and should not intervene every time there's a crisis in the world. But when there's a situation like the one on this mountain—when countless innocent people are facing a massacre, and when we have the ability to help prevent it—the United States can't just look away. That's not who we are. We're Americans. We act. We lead. And that's what we're going to do on that mountain. As one American who wrote to me yesterday said, 'it is the right thing to do," said President Obama.
"What we will do is continue our broader strategy in Iraq. We will protect our citizens. We will work with the international community to address this humanitarian crisis. We'll help prevent these terrorists from having a permanent safe haven from which to attack America. And we'll continue to urge Iraqi communities to reconcile, come together and fight back against these terrorists so the people of Iraq have the opportunity for a better future—the opportunity for which so many Americans gave their lives in Iraq in a long and hard war," he further noted.